Space Dandy – 13 (Season Finale)

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Space Dandy finishes its first season pretty much where I expected it to back when it all started.

There were definitely some peaks and valleys in the first cour of Space Dandy, which are inherent in the style with which it chose to tell its story.  But in the end I think this was the best overall new series of the season because it managed to combine pure entertainment and loftier ambitions better than any of the rest.  Hoozuki no Reitetsu is right there and Noragami was for a while, too, but looking back the season as a whole, Space Dandy just seems to have that little extra spark of genius that nudges it to the front of the line.

This is a show that sneaks up on you.  It was easy enough to believe, for a long time, that Space Dandy really was nothing more than what Watanabe Shinichirou hinted that it would be – a light entertainment with lowbrow comedy and highbrow animation, and no aspirations to be anything more.  But it should have been obvious that with the caliber of talent involved things wouldn’t be that simple, and that’s exactly how it turned out.  There was plenty of lowbrow comedy and the series was usually a blast, but between the endless cultural references, the philosophical musings and the sneaky-powerful character moments it’s a show that ends up making quite an intellectual and even emotional impact.

QT has mostly been in the background while other characters have had their spotlight dances, but he’s always provided both a source for comedy and an anchor of common sense at the heart of the madness.  Last week he finally got the comic headlines, and now he gets the emotional star turn that Dandy got in the fifth episode and Meow the 10th, and it’s no less effective.  It comes in the form of a chance meeting with a coffeemaker, Maker-san (Hirano Aya) during a visit to the local kissaten with Dandy and Meow.

Certainly, we’ve seen the themes presented in this episode – A.I. with emotions, robot revolutions, et al – many times before.  But as always Space Dandy isn’t about re-invention but rather paying tribute to the sort of mass entertainment that the staff clearly loves, and putting a fresh spin on it.  Having managed coffee houses for years I confess a certain bias in favor, but I loved the presentation here (and I can tell you, the corporate bigwigs probably dream at night of machines that serve the coffee themselves and eliminate the need for messy, complicated humans).  The staff at this one consists of Maker-san, the grinder, Mill-san (Neya Michiko) and the brainy cash register, Register-san (Gotou Hiroki).  QT immediately takes a shine to Maker-san, who seems to reciprocate his feelings – and his feelings broaden over time, as she shares her wish to see the outside world and not just the inside of a cafe.

All this in the context of the “23 Day Story of How a Vacuum Cleaner Came to Enjoy Drinking Coffee”.  QT, of course, thinks love is one of the “pointless things” in the universe, and who can blame him after seeing how it makes Dandy and Meow act?  Yet his feelings for Maker are undeniable, and he eventually sneaks into the cafe after closing and takes her on a joy ride (albeit a slow one, as it’s on his back) to see the world she’s only dreamed about.  But love – or any emotion – is forbidden to A.I. in this world and those who exhibit them are shipped off to the ironically named “Dream Island” to rot.  Except there, abandoned and forgotten by biological types, their consciousness thrives – Register-san becomes a DJ at nightly dance parties, and grizzled old Toaster-san (Ohtsuka Akio) is nursing a plot to wipe out their organic overlords and take over the world.

Again, this is familiar territory, from the likes of Wall-E and The Brave Little Toaster all the way up to A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – but again, Space Dandy (this time the writer/director team is Satou Dai and Natsume Shingo) finds something new in paying tribute to something familiar.  As much as anything the second half of the episode feels like something out of FLCL, as Toaster-san’s giant robot goes on a rampage and QT – who’s become supersized thanks to the “Big Dipper Experiment” (or perhaps simply love) that Dr. Gel seems to have sabotaged on purpose – heeds Maker-san’s pleas to try and stop it.  It’s gloriously animated – this show pretty much always is – and directed with great wit and visual flair.  In the end, it wasn’t QT that Maker-san loved at all, but Register-san – leaving QT a little wiser, a lot more banged up and sporting a java jones to show for his trouble.

What we didn’t get here was any firm indication of why Dr. Gel (who actually survives the episode) and the Gogol Empire are after Dandy, and how the multiple realities that are clearly integral to the series’ mythology work.  That will seemingly fall to the Summer cour to deal with, perhaps an early indication that the series is going to broadly continue its episodic style rather then morph into something altogether different.  Considering that the last four episodes were all top-notch, the evidence is that Space Dandy has definitively found its zone, and that makes the prospect of another season on the same progression altogether welcome.

It’s not really appropriate to do a series review for a series that’s only half over, and I don’t want to rehash the tired old debate about the elements of this show’s creation that have nothing to do with the content of the show itself.  It is important to put Space Dandy in some context, though, and there’s no denying it represents something highly unusual both in terms of its content and its commercial model.  By trying – and apparently succeeding – to market an anime to a much wider audience than the current Blu-ray and DVD buying demographic and still be profitable, BONES took a big risk with this series.  Hopefully, in doing so, they’ll encourage other studios to be more creative and bolder in terms of who they reach out to – not to mention embolden BONES to continue to do so themselves.  I don’t see how that could possibly be a bad thing but that there’s been a backlash against this series for doing all that is, in my view, hard to deny.  When a group feels as if their preferences control the direction of the medium, it isn’t surprising that they’d feel hostile towards a series that seeks to prove success is possible without pandering to their preferences.

In the final analysis, what matters most about Space Dandy is whether it’s artistically successful or not.  By that purely subjective measure I think it’s a major triumph, even if a few early episodes ended up being fairly pedestrian.  From the OP and ED to something as simple as the eyecatches this series was exceptional – infused with imagination brought to life with great talent.  The top-notch animation was no surprise, but the degree to which Space Dandy was thought-provoking and emotionally insightful far exceeded my expectations after the first few episodes.  Talent has a way of winning out in the end, in anime as in other things – it doesn’t always work out that way, but generally speaking betting on a thoroughbred like Watanabe-sensei and a studio like BONES gives you pretty good odds.  They paid off with the best new series of the Winter, and I fully expect Space Dandy to be one of the best series of the Summer.

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  1. R

    and i still don't see my Adellie coming back (after all those hints in her episode) *sniff*. and that's my only gripe, mind you. the series was all fun. oh, well. maybe they will grant me my wish in the second season.

  2. That was my least favorite episode after the premiere, so I'm fine with that…

  3. R

    I dunno. I think Adelie's episode worked so well because it was a one-shot, the sort of movie-encapsulated-in-an-episode that just doesn't crop up that much. And I think it would be.more effective staying as a one-shot.

    I really liked that episode thoigh, sucker as I am for nostalgia.

  4. M

    It was certainly the most three dimensional episode to date.

  5. Z

    And Dandy did some actual legwork instead of dreaming about T&A for once.

  6. J

    3-dimensional? It actually felt really flat to me:
    Reprehensible bounty hunter turns soft for a bounty in need.

    I didn't really feel like it had the chemistry that a pairing like that needs, to make a plot-line like that work for me.

  7. M

    It's been one of the few episodes where Dandy went against superficial routine and showed genuine sentiment, instead of feeling like another instrument of the script.

    I actually remember thinking that a character like Adelie would be a perfect counterweight to Dandy, with potential to engage his vulnerability like no other. Much like the mother-daughter chemistry between Michiko e Hatchin.

  8. R

    that's the same thing i was hoping for if they had made Adellie a recurring character. she need not be the moe girl (which i dislike), but simply bring out more of Dandy's humanity, something i find a bit lacking with his interactions with Meow and QT

  9. That ep was pretty much pure formula and pander, I thought, though a necessary dose of it in the life of the series.

  10. R

    yeah, it won't really work well on a regular basis with the whole feel they are gunning for the series, which is more of a sitcom-y one.

  11. M

    @Roger I'm of the opinion that "loli" is too pejorative a term for Adelie, but I could imagine the showrunners having reservations about the inclusion of a young girl character. Upstanding fans could easily misconceive her as trite pandering and loli-otaku as lunch (there's already imaginative artwork floating about).
    My point being that such an outcome would tarnish the writing team's goal to "counter-approach" current trends with Space Dandy. I doubt they'd want to risk potentially alienating western fans too, premature a thought as that may be.

    But then again, if Sato and co. were really aiming to break ground, one may suggest the writers could have boldly embraced the under-aged female as an organic and vital component of the series, beyond fan indulgence. I don't think they fell too short with Adelie.

    But really, elderly woman leads are incredibly unrepresented in the medium more than anyone else, so I'd replace Meow with Obasan.

  12. I don't see sitcom at all here Roger, not remotely. A lot of elements yes, but not much of that one.

  13. R

    I was referring to the episodic natures of sitcoms, as well as the elements you were saying, which the series followed. Adellie and the themes that she brings in wouldn't really fit the fast paced comedy (characteristic of sitcoms) that the series has.

    I actually don't see that "counter-approach" at all (which isn't a big issue with me). what i do see is that this is that it was obviously geared more towards Western (particularly American) viewers with the themes they chose for each episode (the one with the Prince, for one, feels more like a homage to Wacky Races). but, yeah, i agree. they could have played more with Adellie by breaking the pandering notions that surround her character.

  14. M

    For the record, the quote was nabbed off Dai Sato's interview late last month. But I agree that the show seems mainly focused on appealing to American fans of anime, cartoons & genre films.

  15. k

    For me it's the soundtrack that makes any Watanabe gig something special and Space Dandy is no exception.

  16. O

    Did you notice the subtle Evangelion reference when the giant robot first rose up? I totally loved this show, can't wait for more.

  17. M

    That sequence, along with the appliance dance rave and Daft Punk inspired rabu songs elevated the episode for me. Effective considering the hackneyed themes of the episode.

  18. G

    A.I is one of my favourite sci-films of all time, so it felt so wonderful watching this episode playing off some of the similar elements. Another excellent episode from Space Dandy. Gosh, I really can't wait for summer to start. I love the geekiness of this show and its visual ambitions. These are the things that remind me why I love anime. A job well done to BONES and the Space Dandy team.

  19. S

    Overall I think Space Dandy is a mediocre show. I liked episode 4 (zombies) and 10 (Meow’s home planet), but most of the others were dreadfully boring. While it definitely is non-generic in visual design and use of themes, it wasn’t very entertaining to watch. Also, whatever intelligent underlying message each episode is trying to tell, it hardly had any impact due to the lack of continuity. It’s a very hit-and-miss show and mostly a miss for me, but the few hits encourage me to check out the new episodes in the summer season.

  20. M

    Superb music, great visuals, fantastic storyboarding, so-so writing.

    I had no preconceptions about Dandy going in (exempting small trepidation after that short was released) but never imagined the experience would feel so often dull. There were a handful of episodes I appreciated this season – 5, 6 (for the end), 7, 10, 11, 13 so it's not all one-sided. Again, I think how they handled character on off days was where the show flunked. The delivery of humour/scripting fell flat at times, often impairing the creative buzz.

    "When a group feels as if their preferences control the direction of the medium, it isn't surprising that they'd feel hostile towards a series that seeks to prove success is possible without pandering to their preferences."

    Haven't seen any evidence of this, so I hope you're not aiming to write off all the dissenters with that. The majority of apparent discontent with this show has everything to do with the show's shortcomings and nothing to do with prejudice or herd bias.

  21. w

    I think the discontent he's referring to there has nothing to do with the quality of the show, but rather the fact that it's being directly marketed towards the non-otaku audience. There are plenty of those for whom the show just (and understandably) hasn't clicked with, but he's not talking about them here.

    There are plenty who would deride the show simply for airing simultaneously in the states, for example. You know, having the gall to betray the otaku by doing this, how dare you try and convert new anime-fans, all that jazz. That's the group he's getting at.

  22. M

    Do people here scour through 2chan or something?

    @whemleh Sure, but I haven't really seen much in the way of disgruntled Otaku for those reasons expressed. Certainly nothing on the level of Free!

    I'm certain there's some unjustifiable hate towards SD by the self-entitled out there, as there is with everything. In this instance, those throwing tantrums about the show's success and marketing seem a trifle group compared to the wider spread criticisms I've seen on the show's characters, structure and whatnot. In that sense, it seems an oversight not to at least address those legitimate criticisms towards SD in an otherwise positive review.

  23. w

    I think this episode may have come closest to what I expected Space Dandy to be going in. Certainly the Daft Punk-style soundtrack anyway. Loved as always, QT is so moe. Is robo-moe a thing?

    I've really liked it from day one, but man it really has been firing on all cylinders these last few episodes. I think episode 9 will rank for me as its absolute best, though. At least for this cour. Also, that in mind; they could have at least tried to give this episode it's mid-season weight, but I suppose that's not the Dandy way.

    I think the emotions in Dandy are a funny thing. They never really tried to make you like or engage with these characters (episode 5 comes closest) but at some point they kind of nudge their way in and you suddenly realise you're enjoying watching them. At least that's how I found it. And the adventures they had! Wow! So much creativity and fun.

    Thanks for blogging, Enzo! I'll be awaiting part 2 with open arms.
    See you, Space… Dandy?

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